In just 15 years, the nation's largest auto market and the world's fifth-largest economy will stop the sale of new passenger cars and trucks with internal combustion engines in an effort to transition away from fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Gov. Gavin Newsom said last week.
"Our cars shouldn't make wildfires worse and create more days filled with smoky air. Cars shouldn't melt glaciers or raise sea levels, threatening our cherished beaches and coastlines," he said.
The ambitious move by the Democratic governor is another step in what some legal experts say is likely to be a long fight over California's authority to set vehicle-emission standards.
But the long-term feasibility of Newsom's executive order ultimately could rest on who wins the presidential election in November.
President Donald Trump's administration is trying to revoke the state's authority to restrict tailpipe emissions. If successful, said Monica Baumann, a partner at Sacramento, Calif., law firm Scali Rasmussen, "that would effectively mean that it was overriding this executive order" and regulations from the state's clean air agency.
"This entire thing is going to rely upon either a change in administration, success in federal courts or some combination of the two," Baumann, who previously was director of legal and regulatory affairs at the California New Car Dealers Association, told Automotive News. "This is just adding fuel to a really big fire."
Under Newsom's executive order — signed Sept. 23 on the hood of a Ford Mustang Mach-E electric crossover — the California Air Resources Board will develop regulations to mandate that 100 percent of in-state sales of new passenger cars and trucks are zero-emission by 2035, which would cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 35 percent, according to the governor's office. The board also plans to mandate that all medium- and heavy-duty vehicles be zero-emission, where feasible, by 2045.
CARB Chairwoman Mary Nichols said via Twitter that the effort will transform transportation in the state, dramatically reduce vehicle emissions and foster a new generation of clean vehicles.
The order does not prevent Californians from owning combustion engine vehicles or selling them on the used-car market.
It was not immediately clear whether Californians will be able to buy a fossil fuel vehicle across state lines and register it at home. "One obvious fight for the future," said Baumann, "is whether or not this will actually be implemented as a ban on the sale of (new) gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035 versus a ban on the registration of new vehicles that are gasoline-powered."
The ban could have implications elsewhere in the U.S. Other states that follow California's car pollution rules, such as Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, could decide to follow in its footsteps on the gasoline vehicle phaseout.
Auto makers such as Ford, Volkswagen and Honda finalized binding agreements with California in August to cut vehicle emissions in the state.
Ford last week began airing an ad promoting its adoption of tougher emissions regulations under the agreement and calling out rival brands — Chevrolet, Jeep and Toyota — for failing to join the effort.